Before Crest WhiteStrips, there was...
Teeth whitening strips are not without their downsides. You can't eat or sip a glass of wine with them on; you run the risk of irritating sensitive gums around the 20-minute mark; and you have to brush the sticky gunk off after, so really, you can't just whiten on the go as some commercials would have you believe.
However, there is one major plus side to modern whitening methods compared to those of the 1900s: They won't make your jaw disintegrate or bore holes inside your body. That's what happened to the women now known as the Radium Girls, who worked as dial painters in clock factories, ingesting small amounts of the glowing chemical every day and using it as a smile-brightener on nights out.
"Radium’s luminosity was part of its allure, and the dial painters soon became known as the 'ghost girls' — because by the time they finished their shifts, they themselves would glow in the dark," writes Kate Moore in an excerpt from her book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women. "
They made the most of the perk, wearing their good dresses to the plant so they’d shine in the dance halls at night, and even painting radium onto their teeth for a smile that would knock their suitors dead."
In the first two decades of the 20th century, radium was believed to be something of a miracle cure-all and could be found in tonic waters, food items, lipsticks, and yes, toothpaste (we are a people who like our things bright and shiny). Only in 1925, after five had died from radium necrosis
, did medical professionals and the public begin to question the safety; it wasn't until 1938 that the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act banned deceptive packaging on radium-branded products and the public became educated about the chemical's fatal effects.